Following Greenwich Council's decision to reject the market redevelopment plans, Greenwich.co.uk columnist Andrew Gilligan called on the Greenwich Society - supporters of the project - to "change or die". Today we publish the response of Greenwich Society chairman, Tim Barnes.
I question what positive service Andrew Gilligan has provided to Greenwich and its residents. His comments are uniformly negative. His latest attack on the Greenwich Society is one such example- but not the first such attack. He has used his position with the Evening Standard to argue relentlessly against the Olympic Equestrian events in Greenwich Park, and cast aspersions on those who support the Games as either out of touch with local opinion, or neglectful of the true interests of Greenwich Park and its users. He disregards all assurances given by LOCOG and the Royal Parks, whose care for Greenwich Park over the years has been exemplary, and associates himself with those whose scaremongering includes unfounded allegations of large scale Park closures in 2012, and destruction of trees. Similarly he impugns the motives and questions the bona fides of those who support Greenwich Hospital's plans for the Market, likening their proposals to the creation of a Bluewater in the centre of Greenwich and aligning himself with a petition based on the false premise that Greenwich Hospital planned to demolish the 150 year old Market in Greenwich Town Centre to make way for a large development of flats or retail outlet.
It is, of course the case that some members of the Greenwich Society are opposed to the holding of the equestrian events and the modern pentathlon in the Park, and it is a matter of sadness that the dispute rumbles on. However the Society earlier this year held a well attended Special General meeting of its members when the Executive Committee's stand was vindicated by vote and the attempt to force the Society to oppose the cross-country course in the Park was defeated. The Society has worked hard to secure improvements in the planning of the Games. Their concerns, expressed in regular meetings with LOCOG, have resulted in clear commitments as to the length of Park closure in 2012, wholly at variance with the misinformation that has been spread by the antis), a guarantee that the Park will be re-instated to its pre-Olympic condition, assurances as to the protection of tree roots, the keeping open of the Flower Garden and the Children's Playground except for the single day of the cross-country course, and some form of legacy for the Park and its users post 2012.
The Executive Committee of the Society and I personally resent the assumption that Andrew Gilligan and his followers represent the authentic voice of Greenwich. They may have many names on a petition to Save Our Park with the implication that those who do not sign are somehow seeking to desecrate the Park. But we believe that there is a groundswell of enthusiasm and excitement for the Olympics coming to Greenwich, particularly among the young. The Games promise to provide an unique and unforgettable experience, ( in the positive sense of that word). The Society, together with the other 3 local amenity Societies convened the meeting with LOCOG for all their members on Wednesday 23rd September. I think that most fair-minded observers would have detected widespread positive support for the Games among the audience, and concluded that the LOCOG speakers did a great deal to inform us and to allay concerns.
Now we have to contend with the Gilligan criticism that the Society has sold out to and become the mouthpiece of the developers of Greenwich Market. That is nonsense, as is the suggestion that the Society has betrayed its objective to ‘secure the preservation, and enhancement of the built environment and the landscape within SE10'. We take the view that the present state of the Market could and should be substantially improved, ideally before 2012 when Greenwich will become centre stage for a worldwide audience during the Olympics. We considered that the Stakeholder Forum established by Greenwich Hospital to consider and refine its ideas as their plans moved towards planning application, was an excellent initiative, and any suggestion that such meetings consisted in all present just rolling over to do what the developers wanted, is a travesty. There may be many who signed a Save our Market petition who thought that by doing so they were helping to prevent the destruction of a crucial part of the historic centre of Greenwich becoming a shopping centre or group of yuppie flats. But that was never a serious proposition, not least because the Stakeholder Group at an early stage steered ideas away from the ‘glazed mall' concept.
The scheme's opponents could also usefully reflect on the fact that after decades of complaint about Greenwich Hospital not doing anything for Greenwich, they have just rejected, (for whatever reason) its attempts to re-invigorate the Town Centre by means of a £30 million investment in the Market. Although the Society is seeking to persuade the Hospital not to write off their proposals to improve the Market and at the least to spruce it up for 2012, notwithstanding the considerable funds expended in developing their scheme before applying for planning permission, we are concerned that nothing will be done until well after 2012. In light of entrenched local hostility to change, who could blame Greenwich Hospital if they decided to disengage from any scheme to re-develop the market for the foreseeable future? Again we have nothing to apologise for in our involvement with the Stakeholders Forum. Some of our ideas such as the re-instatement of cobbles on the floor of the new Market were accepted by Greenwich Hospital, and we reported on our involvement in the Forum to our members on a regular basis through our Newsletter.
Whether Andrew Gilligan reads our Newsletter before launching into his public criticisms of the Society and its officers is a matter of doubt. The reality is that all members of the EC, who come both from East and West Greenwich, and outside SE10, and I, as Chairman, give a great of time, and effort in seeking to achieve the objectives of the Society, and reporting to our members as to what we are doing. We do not have the advantage of a column in the Evening Standard to wage our personal campaigns, although I was grateful to the Editor for publishing my letter recently criticising the Gilligan article about the Hospital plans being likened to a new Bluewater.
Obviously Andrew Gilligan is able to continue his disparagement of the Greenwich Society, and any development proposals for Greenwich of which he does not personally approve, through his columns in the Evening Standard and his website.
But we would hope that open minded readers might reflect on who has worked harder for the good of the community, our Society or the self-appointed protector of Greenwich who, in his recent blog admitted/boasted that he had never visited the National Maritime Museum, the Observatory or Rangers House, a fundamental part of this SE10 community.
Chairman, The Greenwich Society